USCIS Migrates to Electronic Environment
The Department of Homeland Security published the first in a series of regulations intended to promote the migration of USCIS benefit filings from a paper-based environment to an electronic one. The regulation is a step toward modernizing how USCIS handles the more than six million benefit applications submitted annually. The regulation was published on August 29 at 76 Fed. Reg. 53,764.
Over the next several years, USCIS plans to roll out "secure, customer-friendly online account systems that will enable and encourage customers to submit benefit requests and supporting documents electronically," according to a USCIS press release. The system will assign new customers a unique account that will allow them to access case status information, respond to USCIS requests for additional information, update certain personal information, and receive decisions and communications from USCIS in a timelier manner.
The new regulation revises over fifty parts of DHS regulations. It eliminates references to outdated USCIS forms and descriptions of paper-based procedures. The regulation also removes many obsolete provisions.
DED Extended for Liberians
President Obama announced his decision to extend Deferred Enforced Departure for qualified Liberians through March 31, 2013, an additional eighteen months. On the same day, August 16, USCIS announced its intention to automatically extend employment authorization for Liberian nationals covered under DED through March 31, 2012. The six-month automatic extension of existing EADs will permit Liberians to continue working while they file their applications for new EADs.
There are four categories of Liberians not eligible for DED:
o Liberians who did not have Temporary Protected Status on September 30, 2007, and are therefore not covered under current DED;
o aggravated felons and persons convicted of two misdemeanors;
o persons subject to the mandatory bars to TPS; and
o other ineligible persons described in the President's memorandum (see Appendix B).
USCIS published a notice in the Federal Register (see Appendix A) with instructions for Liberians covered under DED on how to obtain employment authorization for the remainder of the DED extension.
BITS AND PIECES
EOIR - The Executive Office for Immigration Review recently took disciplinary action against three attorneys for violations of the rules of professional conduct for immigration practitioners. Boma O. Allison was immediately suspended for six months based on her six-month suspension in Texas, and Melissa S. Lee for two years based on her two-year suspension by the Ninth Circuit. The one final order of discipline involved Parmesh Dixit, expelled from practice based on his conviction in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.
EOIR - EOIR announced the investiture of two new immigration judges who join the IJ corps in Los Angeles. Deputy Chief Immigration Judge Michael McGoings presided over the investiture at EOIR's headquarters on August 19. The two new judges are Robert E. Coughlin and Arlene E. Dorfman. Biographical information on them is available at www.doj.gov/eoir.
DOJ - On August 22 the Justice Department reached a settlement agreement with Farmland Foods, Inc., a major producer of pork products, resolving allegations that it engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination by imposing unnecessary and excessive documentary requirements on non-U.S. citizens and foreign-born U.S. citizens when establishing their authority to work in the United States. The lawsuit, initiated by the Civil Rights Division's Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices, was based on an investigation revealing that Farmland required all newly hired non-U.S. citizens and some foreign-born U.S. citizens at its Monmouth, Illinois, plant to present specific and, in many cases, extra work-authorization documents. In addition to ending its impermissible document requests and modifying its employment-eligibility-verification process, Farmland agreed to pay $290,400 in civil penalties, the highest civil penalty paid through settlement since the enactment of the INA's anti-discrimination provision in 1986.
DOL - On August 29, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis signed joint declarations and letters of arrangement with Ambassador Anibal de Castro of the Dominican Republic, Ambassador Muni Figueres Boggs of Costa Rica, and Ambassador Francisco Altshul of El Salvador to protect the labor rights of migrant workers from those countries who are employed in the United States. Under the declarations, the embassies and consulates of the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, and El Salvador will cooperate with the regional enforcement offices of the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration and its Wage and Hour Division to distribute information about U.S. health, safety, and wage laws. Letters of Agreement also signed state that the WHD will protect the rights of migrant workers in low-wage industries such as hospitality and agriculture, while OSHA will continue efforts to improve workplace safety and health conditions and provide outreach and assistance to Spanish-speaking workers and employers. More information about the agreements is available at www.dol.gov/ilab.
DHS - The Department of Homeland Security reminds stakeholders that a deadline of October 28, 2011, approaches for some widows and widowers of U.S. citizens seeking immigration benefits on the basis of their marriages to the deceased U.S. citizens. On October 28, 2009, Congress amended the law governing immigration benefits for widows and widowers of U.S. citizens, eliminating the requirement that a widow(er) have been married to the U.S. citizen spouse for two years in order to seek survivor benefits in the event of the spouse's death. An eligible widow or widower of a U.S. citizen who died on or after October 28, 2009, but who was not already the subject of an I-130 petitions by then, may file an I-360 petition within two years of the death. A qualified widow or widower of a U.S. citizen whose deceased spouse had filed an I-130 petition for her or him now has the case automatically converted to an I-360 petition when USCIS is notified of the petitioner's death.
USCIS - USCIS announced the redesign of the Interactive Voice Response system. The IVR system allows customers who call the National Customer Service Center's I-800 phone number to navigate through immigration information, check the status of their cases, and talk to customer service representatives. The new IVR system has shortened menus and reorganized menu options based on call volume to ease navigation through the system. By cutting the main menu items from ten to three, the time required to listen to the entire main menu has been cut from two minutes and fifty seconds to only thirty-eight seconds. The three main menu options are: immigration services (case status, forms, USCIS office locations, civil surgeons, change of address), immigration information (interviews, biometrics, requests for evidence, background checks, or processing times), and special programs and other resources (temporary protective services, FOIA/Privacy Act, or immigration scams).
[This is an excerpt from the Sept. 15, 2011, issue of Bender's Immigration Bulletin.]
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